Which choice is best for a Physics major?

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I have recently been accepted as a major in Physics to UCR, UCI, and UCSB. I know that UCSB is the highest ranked of all the UC's in Physics particularly (except Berkeley, which I did not get in to), but my main dilemma here is that there are other factors in play.

With where I live, I could attend UCR while staying at home. I was also offered a $2,000 per year scholarship there. This drops the price for attending UCR low enough that my parents could pay for my entire education, debt-free. However, UCR is also known as being the very bottom of the UC system (except Merced.) If I attend either UCI or UCSB (UCI being closer to where I live but lower ranked), I will need to live on campus. This shoots the price up to $35,000 a year, and I have not been offered scholarships by either. Doing the math, it turns out that if I attend either of these, I will finish my education with anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 of debt to pay off assuming that I am able to get in to and complete graduate school as well.

So, my question is this: How much does the school's reputation, both in general as a school and in physics, matter? Is 50k-60k dollars of debt worth getting a degree from a university that is ranked highly both as a school in general and in physics (UCSB ranked ~12 for physics, UCI ranked ~35, while UCR is ranked between 100-150)? Or is it better to have no debt at all, get an undergraduate degree from UCR, then seek to make it in to graduate school at a better university? Especially if I want to go down an academic path, which I know is very competitive in physics, and would be helped by having a more prestigious degree. I am also under the impression that UCI and UCSB will have more opportunities for me as an aspiring physicist, versus UCR.

Opinions?
 

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  • #2
ProfuselyQuarky
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What city do you live in? Riverside is not that horribly far away from Irvine. I cannot answer you're question on whether reputation or price is more important (I'll leave that to somebody else), but why aren't you willing to commute that far?
 
  • #3
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This is a very tricky issue, and it really depends on you. All choices here are defensible.

First of all, going to a badly ranked university does not at all mean that you won't get into a good grad school. There are many examples of people who went to really bad schools and who got into a good grad school.

But it is true that top schools like UCSB offers way more opportunities.
- Top schools have way better students. This means that the students are more motivated. This will push you way more than students who don't really care.
- Top schools have more research opportunities
- Top schools may have more opportunities when it comes to courses
- Top schools might have more challenging courses

This does not mean that going to a badly ranked school screws you over completely. Education is what you make of it. It is possible to go to UCSB, be lazy and not learn all that much. On the other hand, it is possible to go to a bad school, self-study a lot, apply for REU's and internships and really work hard, this way you'll be quite competitive.

If you would ask me, I would go for being debt-free. But that's me. I think all choices here have their merits.
 
  • #4
Choppy
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I'd go for the debt-free route.

I agree with Micromass that there are some advantages to the bigger name schools, but I don't think they're worth $50k of debt.
 
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  • #5
Vanadium 50
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the very bottom of the UC system

Perhaps, but that's not saying it is terrible.

You know what they call the guy who graduates bottom of his class in med school? "Doctor."
 
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  • #6
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Thanks for the responses, everyone. I will probably be going to UCR and then apply to a higher-ranked school (like UCSB) for the graduate program, saving me the debt but also giving me a top degree.
 

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